Journal Entry #1
It’s hard to believe that I will be leaving for New Zealand in less than two weeks! In preparation for the trip, we were assigned to expose ourselves to some New Zealand culture, in the form of movies and/or music. I’m a music therapy major, so I naturally gravitated towards the idea of getting to listen to new music and expanding my repertoire. All three of these albums are by artists originally from New Zealand.
The first album that I listened to is one that I’ve actually had for a long time. Hayley Westenra is native to Christchurch, and her “River of Dreams” album is one of the first albums I ever bought. “River of Dreams” was released in 2008, and is a compilation of Hayley’s previous work, along with several new recordings. There is a massive variety of musical styles on this album, including everything from Maōri folk songs, to Eva Cassidy, to a Puccini aria. Despite this, the album still flows beautifully. From grand orchestral arrangements, to a peppy guitar-accompanied “Santa Lucia,” there is something so wonderfully chill about this album. Personally, my favorite song off this album is “Both Sides Now,” originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell. Backed by a simple acoustic guitar and lush strings, she reflects on how one’s perspective of things changes over time. Since I have the special edition of this album, it also includes a lovely version of the New Zealand national anthem.
The second album that I listened to is by an artist named Kimbra, who hails from Hamilton. She most well known in the U.S. for her 2011 collaboration with Gotye on the hit song “Somebody That I Used To Know;” however, since that time she has recorded three albums and become well known across the world in her own right. Her newest album, “Primal Heart,” was released one week ago, and I immediately went out and bought it. As is Kimbra’s style, the album showcases her continually evolving musical style and skill as a producer ad songwriter. The album takes you on a journey from the drum and synth-fueled hip hop vibes and ego-centric highs of “Top of the World,” to heart-wrenching lows in “Version of Me,” accompanied only by soft piano.
For my final album, I went in a more folksy/rock direction with Bic Runga’s “Beautiful Collision.” Bic is from Christchurch, and is also of Maōri descent. She is most well known for her song “Sway,” which was notably used in the film “American Pie.” This album is a great one to have on when you’re road tripping and want something interesting, but not too over-your-head. Bic likes her cryptic lyrics, but the songs are crafted so well that you don’t even notice. My personal favorites off this album are the realistically optimistic “Something Good,” and “Get Some Sleep,” which was the top selling song by any New Zealand artist in 2002.
See y’all in NZ!
Journal Entry #2: So It Begins
We’ve spent one week in New Zealand.
On our first day in Auckland, I stopped by a record store named “Real Groovy Records.” It had this beautiful flashing neon sign out front, and I couldn’t resist. We went in and took a look around. I showed the boys how to use a record player, we listened to some ABBA, and planned to head out. As we were heading up the steps, I heard a song – “Human,” by Kimbra. I started to sing along (because that song is my JAM), and I noticed a girl working at the counter was also singing along. We made eye contact, started jamming together, and had a cool little moment.
We stopped and chatted for a while about music, where we were from, etc. She told me she had a band, she was born in Eastern Europe and that her parents moved to NZ when she was a toddler, but she was planning on moving to London soon. This peaked my interest. From what I’d seen of New Zealand it was a wonderful place – why would anyone want to leave? She said it was because she didn’t have much of a chance to succeed here as an artist. The music that she made was neither mainstream enough nor “kiwiana” enough to gain any popularity.
Now there’s a word I’d never heard before; however, after hearing the girl’s explanation of it, it made perfect sense. It is the same concept as “Americana,” but for New Zealand – everything that is quintessentially Kiwi. The All Blacks, L&P soda, Kiri Te Kanawa, Māori – they all fit this concept of “Kiwiana.”
But she felt like she didn’t.
Even though Auckland has an incredible variety of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and origins, most everyone I’ve talked to considers it an outlier from New Zealand as a whole. So while this girl may have been welcomed in Auckland, she didn’t feel she fit the overall culture of NZ. On the other hand, she also said she liked living there. She’d never felt rejected or as though there wasn’t a place for her. But even so, she knew there was somewhere that would be better for her than here.
In addition to all of this, she also recommended an album by a New Zealand band, which I bought out of blind faith. I wasn’t disappointed. You can listen to it below if you wish. 🙂
Journal Entry #3: The Journey Continues
After staying in Auckland for a few days, we went to a small town called Paihia (pie-HEE-uh). Lucky for us, there was a pizzeria/bar just around the corner from our hostel, so we didn’t have far to go for food. Lucky for us also, one of the nights we were there was karaoke night. Of course we all had a great time, but the highlight of the night for me was the people I got to know.
I was sitting outside, taking a break from the well-meaning voices of my classmates, when a man walked up and joined me. I learned that his wife was the DJ that night, and he comes every week to have a good time with her. He was from Paihia, and lived there, but had spent the past twenty-odd years moving around and doing odd jobs, not the least of which was working as a miner in Australia. However, in the end he came right back to where he was from.
So, naturally I asked him why he had moved around so much. He said he had always had a desire to move around, to take full advantage of his youth while he could and be adventurous. But eventually, he started to get older. He found a girl while he was traveling and they decided to come back here and settle down. He felt like this is where he belonged, even though there were more exciting places.
From inside, the muffled strains of an out-of-tune rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” came floating out as the man’s partner opened the door to step out and join us. She sat down next to him and stole his drink with a cheeky grin.
She joined in our conversation. To her, this was the New Zealand spirit. Always wanting to move forward and be adventurous, but also wanting to live a laid-back, traditional life. This may seem contradictory at first, and in some ways it is, but I think these two sides of a coin are harmonious in their existence.
What I’ve seen of New Zealand has shown me a unique mix of passion for improvement, bettering the future, etc, and for the preservation of tradition and nature, all while not taking one’s self too seriously. And I think that’s a beautiful way to live.
Journal Entry #4: The Journey Ends
Tomorrow is our last day in New Zealand. It’s strange to think that I’ve spent an entire month here, but at the same time, it’s completely believable. Before I came here, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew that New Zealand was a beautiful country filled with rolling green hills and lots of sheep. I knew that it was one of the most eco-conscious countries in the world, and that the standard of living was one of the highest anywhere. I knew that the Māori were the native people of New Zealand, and that their culture was much more present in the country’s culture than Native Americans’ culture was in the U.S.
I think that as far as expectations go, I initially looked at this country through rose colored glasses, because who wants to expect the worst? I expected the people to be fairly content with their lives. I expected that everyone would accept everyone else, and that politics and poverty wouldn’t really be a problem here.
What I was not expecting was how real the people are here. I mean, of course they’re real people, but it can be difficult to fully realize that when you are halfway across the world. These are everyday people with everyday problems. They have dreams and aspirations and hopes, some of which are too big for the place they are. People still get frustrated with politics and policies and funding. This is a normal society with normal problems.
Homelessness still exists.
Taxes still exist.
Traffic still exists.
Immigration, prejudice, ignorance; they all exist in this land of the long white cloud. But, no matter where you go they will exist. So, you might as well accentuate the positive, as the Andrews Sisters would say. This doesn’t mean that one should ignore problems and act like they don’t occur, but part of objectivity is acknowledging not only the bad but also the good.
New Zealand is the most open and accepting culture I have personally ever experienced. The landscapes are beautiful, and the people are considerate and willing to listen to you. People can be themselves with little fear of rejection. Cultures are celebrated and children are encouraged to learn the native language. All in all, it’s just such a lovely place. I wish I didn’t have to leave.
I really love this country.
Haere rā, Aotearoa.
Goodbye, New Zealand.